Here’s Why Accepting Your Imperfections Can Help You Find Meaning in LifeNone By Homaira Kabir
I was seated beside a young girl on the six-hour flight back home. Given that I work with adolescents, and that I have four of my own, I figured we’d have some interesting conversations.
I was wrong. She needed no one. She had her phone, and she spent the vast majority of the flight taking photos and videos of herself. The rest of her time was spent editing, Photoshopping, deleting, and then assessing the results, over and over again.
At home later, I asked my kids if this was normal. They looked at me as though I’d just woken up from a sleeping spell. (Reminder to self—I need to go through their photo feeds.)
The incident on the plane was a stark reminder of the obsession with the self that has risen by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. The failed self-esteem movement of the 1970s led to an epidemic of believing only the good about ourselves, and consequently a rise in narcissism. The ubiquity of social media brought with it a new means to broadcast our wonderful lives of iced lattes and beachy vacations. And the rise of “selfies” at every level of interaction has fed a self-love that is, well, quite unusual for a species that finds strength in numbers, and meaning in belonging to something larger than the self.
This inflated view of ourselves is harming us—not only because the burden of grandiosity can crumble, leading to disillusionment and depression, but because the moment we believe we’re quite wonderful inside, we deny our imperfections and grade ourselves on a forgiving curve. We justify our actions and come up with excuses; over time, the quality of our excuses determines the quality of our lives. In trying to convince ourselves of our greatness, we become divided with our wholeness, and devolve into lesser versions of ourselves.
Accepting our imperfections is not about beating ourselves down. It’s about acknowledging the human frailty that lies in our inherent paradox. As the Cherokee legend goes, we have two wolves of the heart—one of love, the other of hatred—and moral dilemmas are about the quandary of which one to feed.
In his book The Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that it’s precisely this struggle that builds character. After all, it's often our imperfections that become the impetus for growth, and it's in this growth that we find meaning in life.
Find Your Imperfection
Like strengths, imperfections can lie deeply embedded within you. But given that working on them can become your greatest source of fulfillment, you owe it to yourself to find them. Do you struggle with your emotions—perhaps an anger streak that’s hard to control? Or an impatience that stops you from committing yourself fully to a meaningful direction? Be inquisitive, not judgmental. Be curious and kind to yourself. Imperfections don’t make you defective. They make you human.
Learn to Commit
Now that you’ve identified at least one weakness or area of struggle, look at the larger perspective. How is this imperfection influencing others? How is it affecting those whose lives are intertwined with yours in some way? Build purpose by asking yourself, “What do these lives want from me?” This step allows you to connect to something larger than yourself, and given our neural wiring, this works wonders for commitment. If it’s anger you struggle with, think of its effects on your partner or child, and of the power you hold over their happiness.
Use Your Strengths
Strengths are our “natural resources” that allow us to live as the highest version of ourselves. We all have 24 strengths that are part of our character toolbox. And just like tools, each one can be handy in different situations. Once you’ve identified the imperfections you need to work on, look in your toolbox and identify the strength that can help you. For example, when I struggle with keeping my cool with my children, I tap into Perspective to enter their lives, and try to see the situation through their adolescent lens. Which tool do you use? Perhaps it’s easier for you to nurture your Compassion in those moments, or maybe Curiosity to marvel at how their minds work!
Imperfections, weaknesses, and suffering are all part of our human inheritance. Accepting them and working on them through a thousand small acts is what gently pieces together the fragments of our lives. And over time, we will see a certain gladness emerge—the gladness of having found the coherent whole of a meaningful life.
Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology coach and cognitive behavioral therapist. She offers courses and coaching to help women develop the self-confidence and inner strength to identify and achieve their biggest and boldest goals. You can take her free quiz on learning to grow authentic self-worth at her website.
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